Recently, one of our longtime patients, Michelle, came to us with a new issue. She wasn't able to sleep through the night because she kept getting up every few hours to urinate. This was unusual for her.
Because she had been with us for a long time, Michelle was already following our nutritional guidelines. This meant she wasn't drinking sodas or eating poorly. So we asked her about when she stops drinking for the night. "Lunchtime", was her reply. We were amazed. No liquids for at least 7 hours before bed and she had to urinate all night long? This was just not adding up.
We dug further. We asked, "What kind of water are you drinking?" She said she found this great new water called hint and only drank about a bottle to a bottle and a half a day.
After looking up the ingredients and doing a bit of research, we discovered one of the undisclosed ingredients is propylene glycol. Bingo!
Yes, the ingredients for the water only lists two things, purified water and natural flavors. It's the natural flavors part that can be tricky. Propylene glycol (PG) is an FDA-approved synthetic substance widely used as a solvent in ‘natural flavors‘.
Propylene glycol starts out as a chemical called propene, which is a byproduct of the fuel industry or the fermentation of plants. Propene is converted into propylene oxide, a potentially harmful chemical that is also used to make polypropylene-based plastics. Adding water to propylene oxide, also known as hydrolyzing it, creates propylene glycol.
Propylene glycol is a diol alcohol, so it is sometimes listed on products as 1,2-propanediol or propane1,2-diol. It also shows up on some ingredients listings as E1520, methyl ethyl glycol, trimethyl glycol or 1,2-dihydroxypropane, making it trickier to determine which products contain propylene glycol.
It has been around since the 1960s. PG uses include stabilizing and preserving all sorts of products, increasing their shelf life. Some manufacturers add PG to ensure even flavor and color distribution in packaged foods. It’s even used in the liquid that creates smoke for a smoke or fog machine and to improve the “smoothness” of vaping or e-cigarette liquids.
This chemical is also used as a solvent in the paint, plastic and food industries. Solvents help dissolve other chemicals. Propylene glycol is also found in other household goods including antifreeze, foods, medications, cosmetics and personal-care products like toothpaste (ex. Tom's of Maine). This ingredient is found in some soaps, including coconut-oil-based soaps. It’s also in spray-based car tire inflators, vinyl and rubber conditioners, foaming tire protectants, automotive scratch removers and leather protectants.
HOLY FIREBALL! It was in Fireball too.
In 2014 Sweden, Finland and Norway recalled Fireball Cinnamon Whisky because of this one ingredient; propylene glycol. They didn't see it as a harmless additive.
Don't worry frat boys, you can still get all the Fireball you want in the U S of A . (The PG has since been removed.)
There are some concerns with consumption and exposure to propylene glycol including:
Skin irritation and allergic reactions
Potentially toxic to kidneys and liver (especially for people who already have problems)
Since infants can't break it down, most likely not safe for pregnant women or infants
Neurological symptoms when orally administered medications containing it
Can potentially accumulate in the body
Inflammation of mucous membranes
May be a pathway for more harmful chemicals - increase your skin's propensity to absorb whatever it comes into contact with, including toxins.
It is worth considering that this substance can be found in a multitude of products that people use every day from make-up to toothpaste to "water". Propylene glycol is also put into all kinds of food products like cake mixes, beverages, packaged foods and so much more. What is the cumulative effect of this layering of "approved amounts" of this chemical?
We all consume far more than the FDA considers safe because of the layering effect.
What would have happened to Michelle if she had presented this issue to her primary care provider?
The primary care, after labs and imaging studies, most likely would have diagnosed her with an idiopathic, over-active bladder. Treatment in conventional medicine usually includes medication which is taken indefinitely.
Common side effects of this class of drugs include dry mouth, constipation, blurry vision, rapid heart rate, urinary retention and impaired memory, nausea, dizziness and headache, potential hypertension.
It's all fun and games and sweet drinks until someone loses an eye!
Committing to long term medications would have consigned Michelle to a vicious cycle of side effects, some of which would have required additional medications.
Please read labels, know what you are consuming! It matters!